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U.S. and Mexico Settle Border Dispute

The U.S. National Archives and Records Administration

Sound | 1967

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  •  An enthusiastic welcome at the U.S.-Mexican border for presidents Johnson and Gustavo Diaz Ordaz arriving together to settle a century old border dispute.  
  •  Involved are 437 acres of scrub lands seperated from Mexico when the Rio Grande changed course in the 1850s.  
  •  The two leaders arrived after a jet flight from Washington, where President Ordaz was President Johnson's guest.  
  •  The Mexican president calls the signing "a triumph of law, reason, and justice." 
  •  President Johnson states "an old argument has ended, a lasting bond has been forged between our countries." 
  •  The two leaders seal the agreement with clasped hands and the flags symbolize good neighbors. 
  •  President Johnson and Mexican President Ordaz arrive to much fanfare 
  •  The presidents sign the law to settle the dispute  
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Presidents Johnson and Ordaz settle a century-old US-Mexico border dispute at a ceremony in 1967 after 437 acres of land was returned to Mexico as a result of the Rio Grande River changing course in the 1850s.
Thirty-sixth president of the United States, Lyndon B. Johnson, was born on a hill country farm near Stonewall, Texas on August 27, 1908 to Samuel Ealy Johnson, a former Texas legislator, and Rebekah Baines Johnson.  He attended Southwest Teachers College, now Texas-State University, graduating with a degree in history and social science in 1930. LBJ spent one year as principal and teacher in Cotulla, educating impoverished Hispanic elementary school students. LBJ became the secretary to Texas Congressman Richard M. Kleberg in 1931; the four year position helped him gain influential contacts in Washington. Johnson married Claudia Alta “Lady Bird” Taylor on November 17, 1934.
LBJ acted as Director of the National Youth Administration in Texas from 1935 to 1937. Johnson won his first legislative election in 1937 for the Tenth Congressional District, a position he held for eleven years. He was a firm supporter of President Roosevelt’s New Deal and in 1940 acted as Chairman of the Democratic Campaign Committee. In 1948, following his service as a Lieutenant Naval Commander during World War II, LBJ ran as the Democratic nominee for Senate. In a cloud of controversy, he narrowly defeated former Texas Governor Coke Stevens and easily beat his Republican opponent in the general election.  Before winning his second senate term, LBJ was elected Majority Whip in 1951, became the youngest ever Minority Senate Leader in 1953, and was voted Majority Leader in 1954. Johnson unsuccessfully ran for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1960 but was selected to be Vice-President under John F. Kennedy. 
Lyndon Johnson was sworn in as Commander and Chief aboard Air Force One following President Kennedy’s assassination on November 22, 1963 and won reelection in 1964. President Johnson passed landmark legislation with the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Debate over military efforts in Vietnam intensified in late 1963 when the President stated that the United States would not withdraw from Southeast Asia. Escalation of the war against North Vietnam brought disapproval from Democrats, claiming the efforts were misguided, and from Republicans who criticized the administration for not executing sufficient military vigor. Antiwar protests, urban riots, and racial tension eroded Johnson’s political base by 1967, which further dissolved following the Tet Offensive in January 1968. On March 31, 1968, President Johnson announced that we would not seek a second Presidential term.
After returning to Texas, Johnson oversaw the construction of the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum on the University of Texas campus in Austin. Throughout his political career, LBJ was an influential figure in Texas affairs; his policies brought military bases, crop subsidies, government facilities, and federal jobs to the state. After suffering a massive heart attack, former President Johnson died at his ranch on January 22, 1973. In February of the same year, NASA’s Manned Spacecraft Center in Houston was renamed the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center, in honor of one of the country’s most influential Texans. 

The Chamizal Dispute, a border disagreement over 600 acres of land between El Paso, Texas, and Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua, was a source of tension in U.S. – Mexico relations for over fifty years. 

At the close of the 19th century, the course of the Rio Grande River (or the Río Bravo del Norte) had shifted on many occasions, as a result of flooding and other events. According to the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo (1848) and the Treaty of 1884, the border between the United States and Mexico was to remain down the middle of the river, regardless of alterations in course, as long as the movements were the result of gradual natural changes. A stretch of 600 acres, known as El Chamizal, was now claimed by both nations; settlers had incorporated the land into El Paso proper, while Mexican citizen Pedro I. García held title. 

In 1910, the International Boundary Commission (later the International Boundary and Water Commission), consisting of delegates from Mexico, the U.S., and Canada, set out to settle the matter. Ultimately the tribunal's 1911 proposal split the territory between the two nations, but the U.S. rejected it on grounds that it did not conform to the terms of the arbitration. 

In the ensuing years, several U.S. presidents sought resolution to the dispute, which remained a contentious issue for both countries. U.S. Senator Tom Connally was known to frequently declare, "Not one inch of Texas for Mexico!" In 1963, President John F. Kennedy elected to settle the matter largely on the terms of the 1911 proposal, which Mexico accepted, and payment and land appropriation began. The American–Mexican Chamizal Convention Act of 1964 legally settled the dispute, and festivities were held on the border with President Lyndon B. Johnson and Mexican President Adolfo López Mateos in attendance. In 1967, after a man-made channel was built to prevent the Rio Grande's course from bringing the border into question again, President Lyndon Baines Johnson and President Gustavo Díaz Ordaz met on the border to officially announce and celebrate the end of the dispute after more than five decades.